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Fw: Bach, Truth, and Meaning

Dear F Minors,

This message came to the Bach Recordings List.  I thought that it was
appropriate for our list, because Glenn Gould had such an open mind about
Bach's music.  Also, July 28th.  is the anniversary of JSB's death.

Well said, John:

From: Nuala <dohgrant@idirect.com>
To: Bach Recordings <BachRecordings@listbot.com>
Date: Thursday, July 27, 2000 11:03 AM
Subject: Bach, Truth, and Meaning

>Bach Recordings
>Following on some ideas expressed by Armagan Ekici and Jane Newble: for
>years I held the following views about music: music expresses truth, in
>sense; interpretive approaches may be, to various extents, correct or
>incorrect, right or wrong; some music is objectively better than other
>music; the composer has certain musical ideas or intentions in his or her
>head, and to the extent that those ideas and intentions can be brought out
>in a performance, the performance will be improved.
>I am now convinced that these views are completely wrong, although I  held
>them with conviction for many years.
>My reasons for rejecting these views have to do with common sense.   I
>cannot deal with all of them here, except in a very general way.
>I still believe that the most important truths in this world, certainly the
>only truths really worth having, are artistic and aesthetic ones, including
>musical truths.  But truth in this sense need not, and most probably does
>not, have anything whatever to do with epistemological or scientific truth.
>Scientific truth entails, for me at any rate, the existence of competing
>theories, only one of which, ultimately, can be true, assuming the theories
>actually have the same subject matter as their principle focus.   Musical
>interpretations are not in competition in the sense in which scientific
>theories are: one destined to be proved false, or mostly false, the other
>destined to be proved true, or mostly true.
>Similarly, musical truth, whatever it is, cannot be about truth in this
>sense, which sense of truth is commonly called prepositional truth.  More
>important, there is no reason why music should involve truth in this sense.
>Jumping ahead to musical meaning, it is a matter of historical fact that
>Bach often wrote for a religious purpose.  Personally, knowing what Bach
>thought he was up to when he wrote a particular Cantata enriches my
>experience of it.   But that is my predisposition; others may not care what
>Bach had in mind.   And not only is it their business how they choose to
>listen to Bach (or to anyone else), I cannot think of one sustainable
>argument for preferring one approach over the other.   For again, we are
>dealing with an activity that is prepositional in nature.
>Similarly with interpretation.  For some listeners it may be the case that
>an interpretation that adheres scrupulously to the relevant canons of
>ornamentation and instrumentation is always preferable to an
>that does not.   Yet, I can find no valid musical reason to support the
>that authenticity is inherently better than the lack of it.
>In short, musical expression is an entirely subjective matter, a matter of
>personal taste.   That is not at all to deny that valid reasons cannot be
>supplied by a conductor or performer for taking one interpretive approach
>opposed to another, but such reasons, however cogent, cannot support the
>quite different conclusion that one performance is
>objectively--actually--really--BETTER than another!   Rather, providing
>sound musical reasons for a performance is about shared and generally
>upon musical values, and also of course about departing from them.
>And that general rule seems to me to apply equally to meaning and truth in
>music.   No performance or interpretation is made
>actually--really--objectively better than another by virtue of its
>to the meaning the composer intended.   And no performance or work of art
>expresses truth in any objectively valid sense, other than, perhaps, choral

>and vocal works that express semantic truths.
>In sum: good taste and bad taste are entirely subjective matters; and no
>can ever be faulted for their tastes.
>John Grant
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